Andy Murray has broken through his self-imposed glass ceiling – he is no longer the “nearly man” of tennis.
Murray won through twofold changes, in his attitude and self-belief and in the ability to contain and manage his anger and his energy. He left behind that creeping sense of not being good enough, of being the “nearly man” which has denied him so far, typically the Australian Open. His Olympic win was the first manifestation of this. He was also able to focus his energy, his anger on the task at hand with less of the uncontrolled minor explosions which have up to now been his hallmark. Controlled energy release was key to his success.
The key agent of these changes has been his coach Ivan Lendl. It has been reported that Lendl gives relatively little “verbal” advice. In sport there is no substitute for looking as the most powerful form of learning. Murray looks over at Lendl and takes in a body image of stillness and containment and self-esteem.
This is constantly reinforced throughout the match – it is a form of coaching not covered in the rules, coaching through body shape. By modelling containment Lendl is coaching Murray at the deepest level, one that words cannot access.
What is more Lendl reframed Murray’s previous losses by telling him he won because he’d lost saying “A loss is a loss; and a loss is not a loss. You learn from certain losses and become depressed from other ones. When you have losses, when you put it all out there and go hard, you can be proud of yourself”. What he is saying is that through loss, through making mistakes we learn and can develop.
In anger we often relive our past or experience our fear of the future. We can carry and constantly chew over an old thought that undermines us such as being the “brave British loser”. This then becomes part of who we are. By staying in the present, playing a point at a time, focusing on the immediate, we can avoid falling into these old and undermining judgements of ourselves.
Andy Murray yesterday showed far less of the uncontained anger displays we have seen in the past. He was the most “in charge” of himself we have ever seen him. Almost gone were the grimaces and fist clenchings. He managed himself as a machine, regulating his use of energy, staying contained, focused and in the present.
Murray, with Lendl at his side is experiencing a new relationship with himself and this was demonstrable when Djokovic staged the comeback to two sets all. In the past the old demons might have surfaced, the self-fulfilling thought of being the perennial “nearly man”.
This time he was different. He was able to adjust mind and body and not go to the familiar place which offers only despair and second best. Murray warned us after Wimbledon: “I will only resume work when my mind is right”. Last night his mind was right, he stayed in the present, point by point no longer undermined by thoughts of being a brave loser, regulating his energies and focusing his anger on the task at hand rather than on himself.
After his victory last night, Murray said: “We are learning to be happy”. He and his family cannot quite believe the change that has taken place. It involves being accustomed to a new mental outlook and world view. Being a winner is a skill that has to be learned, it takes time for this to become part of who you are. I cannot help connecting this to the success of Team GB in the Para/Olympics and the new sense of national pride and self-belief we have all experienced in the last month. Andy Murray’s journey has just begun.